The World Cup final is here after weeks of brilliant soccer
Former South African footballer Matthew Booth wraps up his analysis of the World Cup in Russia and looks ahead to the last two matches
Dame i guspada (ladies and gentlemen),
Wow, what an enthralling World Cup it has been!
In the past week, once again Russia 2018 has provided us with some of the best World Cup football in living memory. That some of the traditional big names were absent from the semifinals did not take away from the sub-plots, tactical battles and personal agendas that puritan fans of the game would have appreciated.
France 1-0 Belgium
Samuel Umtiti certainly made up for his blunder against Australia by out-jumping Marouane Fellaini to put the French into the 2018 final.
But even more impressive was how N’Golo Kanté’s productive and workmanlike response to the sustained pressure led by Eden Hazard (who had to drop too deep because of the blue wall) and the Dries Mertens/Fellaini combination – which was a threat until Fellaini started to operate in a wider position and became ineffectual to Belgium’s cause.
Croatia 2-1 England
The media and public back in Blighty are well experienced at tackling their national team from behind … but bloody ’ell!
“It’s coming home” ... is it? Do not thumb your nose at the football gods when you are up against Luka Modrić & Co and you still have a whole semifinal to play.
To be honest, I didn’t think the little magician would have had the legs to carry him should the game have gone to another 30 minutes of extra time (all three knock-out games have gone that way for Croatia), considering his long season with Real Madrid.
Ivan Rakitić played his 70th game of the season, just by the way. These two gave others in their squad the confidence and freedom during this tournament to express themselves. Ivan Perišić, who scored the vital equaliser and his 20th goal in his 72nd appearance, and Šime Vrsaljko, at right back, have certainly taken advantage.
England, take a bow! Despite an easier run into the semis, this young English team has gained vital experience to use to their advantage come the Euros in two years’ time and Qatar in four.
Stand-out aspects for the English have been Jordan Pickford’s ability to start play from the back and Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier’s combination play down their right-hand side of defence – no doubt helped by their time at Spurs together.
Trippier’s superb free-kick was the Englismen’s only shot on target for the entire game, unless you include Harry Kane’s deflected shot onto the post. That must be of concern for the England manager, as it seems his team struggles to create opportunities against tougher opponents. He bemoaned a period in the second half when they played “long” when under pressure and gave away possession needlessly, “which is indicative of going ahead too early in the game”, he said.
England vs Belgium
England had 15 shots on target in their first two games against Tunisia and Panama – and only eight in their last four. That statistic must be of concern to Gareth Southgate. Marcus Rashford has to start!
The two teams’ attitude in this match-up will be all-important as the two managers will have their work cut out to try to motivate their starting XI who have just lost the opportunity to compete for the biggest reward in football.
Prediction: A win for England
France vs Croatia
Should the French go ahead early, or should this final run into extra time (the French have had an extra day’s rest), you will have to feel for the Croatians, as the French – with Kante running the midfielder – look impenetrable. If extra time beckons, it would be the fourth final in a row to do so.
Prediction: A win for France
Enjoy the last, all-important pieces of this global showcase!
Phaka phaka. (Goodbye.)
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